Making the Mummies Talk (without Palmolive soap!)

Checking potential samples for the project with Alice Stevenson (Petrie Museum-UCL) and Kathryn Piquette (UCL)

Checking potential samples for the project with Alice Stevenson (Petrie Museum-UCL) and Kathryn Piquette (UCL) at the Petrie Museum, London.

As the readers of my blog know, I have been following the amazing adventures of Scott Carroll, former director of the Green collection and now partner of Ancient Asset Investments, and his friends dissolving Ptolemaic and early Roman mummy masks in Palmolive soap with the strange idea to retrieve New Testament manuscripts, but in fact finding some administrative Ptolemaic documents and Greek literary fragments as a result of their washing up. We will possibly have more precise information about what was inside the artefacts when the first volume of the Green papyri will be published, with the hope to receive also explanations on the methods employed for the dismounting, and on the provenance of the masks and cartonnage, especially after we learnt that Iraq clay tablets from the Green collection have been seized and are under investigation by the federal authorities.

As it often happens in research, some good came as a result of what happened. Public concern raised by the Palmolive Indiana Jones YouTube exploits has pulled together a multidisciplinary team of specialists lead by Melissa Terras (UCL) and Mike Toth (R.B. Toth Associates), including myself among others, that has received funds from Arcadia Foundation to investigate how special imaging techniques, such as multispectral technology, can lead to the establishment of non invasive methods for reading papyri encapsulated in mummy masks and other cartonnage objects. We named the project Making the Mummies Talk.

Sorting out cartonnage samples at the Petrie Museum

Sorting out cartonnage samples at the Petrie Museum

The work of the team has just begun. There are a number of challenges we are facing, ranging from conservation issues to the little information available so far on the compositions of ancient inks and how they respond to the different imaging techniques we are going to apply. But we are convinced that the project will be a decisive step forward into finding ways not only to avoid the destruction of ancient artefacts in the future, but also to gather data on their material features and freely share them for study. Classicists and other specialists have tended too often to focus only on the texts written on ancient papyri and other materials, overlooking other key aspects of ancient manuscripts, such as the quality of the papyrus employed, ink compositions and other means involved in their production, and their multiple lives as books or documents first, and later as recycled materials for the fabrication of something different.

This project will also allow us to evaluate what impacts past conservation techniques used in museums and libraries, or by dealers, had on the objects under study. While working with Mike Toth at the John Rylands Library, for example, we obtained some interesting information on the tax receipt on the back of the so-called Last Supper Rylands amulet: besides the text of the receipt otherwise unreadable, multispectral imaging brought to light traces of cell-tape unfortunately employed in the past on the papyrus surface, the effects of which were, however, invisible to the naked eye.

P.Ryl.Greek Add. 1166 back: the lighter stripes visible especially on the left half of the papyrus match with cell tape that was found in an envelope with the papyrus.

P.Ryl.Greek Add. 1166 back: the lighter stripes visible especially on the left half of the papyrus match with cell tape that was found in an envelope with the papyrus. Images were taken before conservation.

 

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Destroying mummy masks: “Since we own, it’s ok”. Maybe not…

A reader of this blog, Beau Quilter, was so nice to edit the long and remarkably boring performance of Josh McDowell on papyri from mummy cartonnage and the truth of the Bible. We now have a two minutes peak that I hope all of you will watch:

I like the words Beau Quilter has added at the end as a comment to a quote of McDowell himself: “Apparently since they own it, it’s ok’.

This sentence underlines two important elements of this sad story. First, the incredible lack of any awareness about the importance of archaeological evidence that this man and others, like Scott Carroll (who apparently dismounted mummy cartonnage for the Green collection and possibly others in the past), demonstrate. The aggressive cultural discourse behind their words and actions would deserve a treatise on its own. People like Josh McDowell and Scott Carroll are a threat not only for the damages they have procured to cultural heritage patrimony, but also for their misuse of ancient manuscripts in public discourses on the Bible. Their faith must be very weak if they need scraps of papyrus in order to prove the value of the Scriptures.

The second element I wish to bring to your attention is that for once there is some truth in what McDowell is saying: from what I have gathered, according to the American and other legislations, the legal owner of an ancient object can dispose of it as he/she wishes. This opens a number of interesting considerations on responsible and irresponsible private collecting that would deserve a longer, separate post. But that ownership must be legal: if it comes out that the object was bought illegally, in this case that the mask does not have clear provenance, everything changes. In principle, the legal owner of these destroyed masks could pursue McDowell and other iconoclasts, and the dealers who sold the objects, in order to be compensate for the loss.

Why Josh McDowell and other owners of antiquities are not revealing names of the dealers they have purchased masks and other cartonnage from, and do not publicly provide documents proving that their acquisitions are legal? Do they fear that the eventual legal owner of those artefacts (e.g. the Egyptian Government) will pursue them in court one day?

Josh McDowell, Scott Carroll and the Green Collection

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 08.40.36Evangelical apologist Josh McDowell has uploaded new interesting material on his  “Discover” webpage. There is now a link for downloading an enlightening pdf booklet, Discovering a Living Treasure, in which he explains how he started his papyrology training under our Indiana Scott Carroll (I retrieved this information from Brice Jones’ blog). At page 2 of the booklet, McDowell says that his first dismounting mummy mask experience took place at Baylor and the papyri were extracted for the Green Collection by Carroll: if this is true, images and explanations of the extraction method will be certainly published in the first volume of the Brill series.

McDowell adds that he has then purchased cartonnage through Scott Carroll for starting his own collection to use for his ministry. I recognise that Scott Carroll must be a terrific teacher because McDowell has very clear ideas on cartonnage, and is able to distinguish mummy masks, panels, and book-binding (p. 4), a topic that has recently confused even well-trained people. Despite the promising cartonnage lesson, what follows are some (hilarious) out of focus images of papyrus and parchment fragments allegedly bearing lines form the Scriptures, and this I must say is not very promising in terms of credibility.

I am not a law expert, but it appears that in the United States owners of antiquities are entitled to do whatever they like with them, including dissolving mummy masks in Palmolive soap, as long as they have been legally acquired. However, in case the ownership is later discovered to be illegal the legal owner (e.g. the Egyptian government) in principle could ask for restitution and damages.

Can we see the acquisition documents of antiquities owned by Josh McDowell and other private collectors as I have already asked in my yesterday post? Would you trust people who dismount cartonnage and then refuse to explain from where the original artefacts came from?

Provenance issues: Information with thoughts to follow

The Galatians 2 Coptic fragment when advertised on eBay, screen shot from  Quaternion blog post

The Galatians 2 Coptic fragment when advertised on eBay in 2012, screen shot from The Quaternion blog post

As many of my readers already know, there was an entire session devoted to issues of provenance at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Diego. Three papers were presented, followed by respondents, and then we had a lively general discussion. I have enjoyed the session, and what has been said has made me re-thinking about many of the issues at stake. But before I’ll write at length about this, I feel necessary to give important updates on the acquisition history of the Sappho papyrus fragments and the Coptic Galatians 2 papyrus on which I have written in the past. I was given the details which follow right before the SBL session, they were swiftly included in my paper, and I think it is my duty now to report them in the blog.

Full information on the acquisition history of the new Sappho fragments will be given by Dirk Obbink in a forthcoming article in ZPE. An entire session at the American Philological Association/Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting in New Orleans (Session 5, 9th January 2015) will be devoted to the new Sappho poems: the first paper by Obbink will address, among others, issues of provenance, as you can read from the program.
The fragments do not come from mummy cartonnage, as previously written by Obbink in his TLS article, but from book binding cartonnage; their provenance is documented, and proofs that they were out of Egypt before 1972. The book binding was dismounted before the papyri were studied and then published respectively by Dirk Obbink (P.Sapph. Obbink) and by S. Burris, D. Obbink, and J. Fish (P.GC. 105).

The Galatians 2 Coptic fragment (GC.MS.000462) was purchased in 2013 by Steven Green from a trusted dealer; the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection archives do have files attesting that the papyrus was part of the David Robinson papyrus lot sold at a Christie’s auction in London in November 2011. The files do not explain what happened to the manuscript between November 2011 and October 2012, when it was on sale on eBay, and how it went from eBay to the dealer who sold it to Green. The only person who would be able to explain how a papyrus legally acquired at a Christie’s auction in London went on sale on an eBay account located in Turkey at this point would be the above mentioned trusted dealer, whose identity remains undisclosed.

I am confident that some form of public access to the acquisition data and hopefully documents of the objects belonging to the Green Collection/Museum of the Bible will be provided in the near future.

Mark strikes back: Mummy cartonnage and Christian apologetics, again…

Slide commented by C. Evans, screen shot from YouTube video

Slide commented by C. Evans, screen shot from YouTube video

I am just back from the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting and planning to report about the interesting discussion we had on issues of provenance. But before that I should report on the resurfacing of the sadly famous papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark from mummy mask cartonnage. In a YouTube video published on 24 July 2014 (below), Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at the Divinity School of Acadia University, reports on a fragment of Mark, allegedly dating to the 80s of the first century AD and in course of publication, retrieved from a mummy mask. In the PowerPoint slide he is commenting on, you can see a mummy mask, although we are not told if the above mentioned papyrus comes from that specific one; any other useful information on the papyrus location and the owner (a private collector?) are as well lacking. This seems to be the same fragment mentioned in the past by Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, although we cannot be 100% sure because nobody answers questions with any clarity. (Sometimes I feel I am talking to members of a gnostic sect rather than Protestant scholars…). In February 2012 the fragment was called into question during a debate between Wallace and Bart Ehrmann; one month later, Wallace posted information on the papyrus as to be published by Brill in his blog. I wrote emails to Wallace in order to know the name of the collection holding the fragment; Brill is the publisher of the Green papyri, but so far I have not been able to understand if this papyrus is in that collection or another one. Dan Wallace has always kindly answered to my emails, but without adding details because, he says, “ I have signed a nondisclosure agreement about the Mark fragment”. Craig Evans’ talk took place at the 2014 Apologetics Canada Conference (7-8 March, Vancouver). It is clear that papyri have officially entered into the rhetoric of apologists as the means through which they sell the idea that we can recover the original texts of the Gospels. These people are not doing any good service to the public and to our cultural heritage patrimony. The audience who attend their talks are told fantasy stories on the retrieval of papyrus fragments and their date, and on the quest for Christian original texts; apologists’ speeches are not only misinformed, but can even encourage more people to buy mummy masks on the antiquities market and dissolve them in Palmolive soap – a method suggested publicly by one of them, Josh McDowell, close friend of the ex-director of the Green Collection, Scott Carroll. All this said, I must confess this pseudo-scholarship is procuring me endless, astonished entertainment…

UPDATE 26 November: Professor Evans has kindly informed me via email that this is the same fragment mentioned by Daniel Wallace and it is his understanding that the fragment will be published by Brill in 2015. He cannot answer other questions I posed on the dismounting of the mask “because of various confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements”.

UPDATE 21 January: my last post on the subject with answers to further questions is this: https://facesandvoices.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/mummy-masks-papyri-and-the-gospel-of-mark/

Mummy Cartonnage: An Introduction

Mummy mask of the Ptolemaic period, probably from Hawara

Mummy mask of the Ptolemaic period, probably from Hawara, Manchester Museum 2781.a

As all of you should know by now, I am remarkably pedantic. Therefore when I don’t know much about a topic, I go back to books and sometimes the Internet. Being mostly interested in Byzantine papyri, I had to refresh my knowledge of papyri from mummy cartonnage and related matters, since they have become such a hot topic after the publication of the new Sappho fragments (P. Sapph. Obbink and P.GC.105), and the YouTube adventures of the two Palmolive Indiana Jones retrieving New Testament papyri through mummy masks washing-up. So I thought to share what I have learnt so far.

In lesson one of any course in papyrology or related subject, you would be taught that there are two main sources from where you can legally or illegally retrieve papyri: excavating the remains of ancient cities, cemeteries, deposits or rubbish heaps, and dismounting mummies or book bindings, coverings and similar agglomerations of papyrus and other materials. Papyri can be found in mummy contexts, so to speak, in two main forms. They could have been used for fabricating mummy masks and panels, mixed together with other materials such as linen, and then covered with stucco and painting (the so-called papier mache), or they could have been used for wrapping or filling the mummies themselves. This second case is what B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt found, for instance, in the sacred crocodile cemetery of Tebtunis, and later in other villages in the Fayum when papyrology was in its early days at the beginning of the 20th century. Possibly the first to have done experiments for retrieving papyri from mummy cartonnage was the French archaeologist Jean Antoine Letronne around 1825; he was disappointed by their bad status of preservation and the administrative contents. Sometimes the papyri retrieved from panels covering the feet or the breast of the mummies preserve the shape of the elements they come from. You can see an example of feet-shaped papyri in the Berkeley Tebtunis collection clicking here; you can have an idea of the appearance of mummies covered by such masks and panels from an image of a Ptolemaic one nowadays in the Louvre, clicking here (I know, it is a free-from-copyright image, but mummies scare me to death and I don’t like having a whole one in this post…).

From a rough calculation, I would say that the vast majority of our legal and illegal findings have derived from discoveries in situ; fewer papyri have come from mummy cartonnage or other similar kinds of papyrus recycling. (You will not get percentages from me: I refuse numbers as a form of resistance to a present where everybody knows the price and measure of everything, but the value and meaning of nothing).

Mummy fillings, wrappings and mummy cartonnage are renown for being an excellent source of papyri of the Ptolemaic period, which are fewer in absolute numbers than those of the following Roman and Byzantine periods, and therefore particularly important to scholars of the Hellenistic period. According to standard papyrology manuals, the practice of fabricating cartonnage for mummy masks and panels went on throughout the entire Ptolemaic period, and ended towards the end of the Augustan era, so at the beginning of the first century AD.

The retrieval of papyri from mummy panels and masks presents a number of problems and issues due not only to the technical aspects of the process, but also to the damages it procures to the objects. As you may imagine, there are different views about what comes first, either the mummy masks and panels, or the texts inside them. Therefore papyrologists and conservators have been working hard for finding methods for obtaining papyri from mummy cartonnage that take all these issues into consideration. Nowadays imaging technologies can help not only through the recording of the entire process, but also and foremost through the developing of non-destructive ways for retrieving and reading papyri. However at the moment, as J. Frösén reminds us in a dedicated chapter of the Oxford Handbook of Papyrology (“Conservation of ancient papyrus materials”, p. 88), “the recovery of papyrus from cartonnage is still the subject of controversy. Admittely it interferes with the integrity of the cartonnage as an artifact”.

Among the conservators who have worked in the field of papyri from mummy cartonnage there is Michael Fackelmann, a conservator active in Vienna in the seventies-eighties of last century. Fackelmann is an elusive figure, I have discovered, although he wrote important contributions on papyrus restoration that you find in the standard papyrology bibliography. Interestingly, he became also a collector and dealer of papyri, which were sometimes sold to university collections worldwide besides to private collectors. In those years there was much less awareness of the importance of papyrus archaeological provenance and acquisition circumstances than nowadays; I have been constantly reminded recently of the long history of the issues of ‘provenance’, and how much they are embedded in our disciplines and even in the birth of papyrology. I think historical awareness does not excuse present practices, and above all invites future change for better ones.

In any case, what I have realized is that some of the papyri connected with Fackelmann’s activities are particularly important in the history of dismounting mummy cartonnage, because they challenge the above-mentioned standard chronology of papyri from this kind of source. In other words, there have been cases of papyri that are said to come from mummy cartonnage and to date after the Augustan period, other than the recent Sappho fragments, dated to the 3rd century AD by their editors on the basis of C14 analysis and palaeographical considerations, and the New Testament texts that the Palmolive Indian Jones declare they found dissolving mummy masks. On these and other papyri challenging the traditional chronology we’ll talk in future posts.

Update on the new Sappho fragments and the Green Collection

So-called Sappho from Pompeii (Naples, MANN 9084) From Wikicommons

So-called Sappho from Pompeii (Naples, MANN 9084)
From Wikicommons

The director of the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection, David Trobisch, has kindly informed me via email that the collection is going towards full digitisation and open access. As it happens in many other collections, “in some cases items are put on reserve and not accessible until the research has been done.” He writes that information on the acquisition circumstances of the Green Sappho fragments and their relation with the London Sappho will be provided in a forthcoming publication by Dirk Obbink.

As for the acquisition circumstances of Galatians 2 (GC 462), the Green collection has purchased it “through a trusted dealer that we have done business with over many years”.

I thank David Trobisch for the answers he is constantly providing; it is clear that his arrival is a dramatic step forward for the Green Collection. My only comment is that this dealer must not be so trustworthy since the papyrus was on sale from e-Bay Turkish seller MixAntik in 2012.

 

 

Papyri retrieved from mummy cartonnage: a video

"I figured about about 65 classical texts…"Dr. Scott Carroll in Mexico, September 2013

“I figured about 65 classical texts…”Dr. Scott Carroll in Mexico, September 2013

As the readers of my blog know, I am a big fan of Dr Scott Carroll, formerly on the payroll of the Green Collection (2009-2012) and recently collaborating with the evangelical apologist Josh McDowell, as you can read in a recent post of Brice C. Jones. I am fascinated by this Indiana Jones of Biblical Studies, as I have explained in an old post, and desperate to meet him in person.

At the moment, I am just following his adventures on the web. I know that a meeting with him would be an amazing experience, as I understand while watching the faces of people gathering en masse for his talks in the videos I am now religiously collecting for my amusement.

However, I found this particular video of an event organised by the University of the Nations for a workshop in Mexico last September 2013 a bit concerning. Here Scott, after having explained what his and his wife’s organisation (I guess the Scott Carroll Manuscripts & Rare Books and The Manuscript Research Group) do, starts moving around what do seem glazed papyrus fragments and other artefacts. Then he addresses the fascinating topic of papyri from mummy cartonnage. He jokes about the smell of mummy cartonnage over the house stove to the despair of his wife, and alludes to the scams you may find on eBay looking for cartonnage. Finally, he explains how to extract papyrus fragments from mummy cartonnage showing images from his computer. He says that the procedure he shows through what seems to be powerpoint slides – that you can see in the screen shots I took from min. 24:40 onwards in the video (see below), but I really recommend to watch the video itself – was performed at Baylor University (Texas) where, he asserts, he had an appointment. Unless he is lying, which I cannot believe because he is a good Christian, he must refer to the days when he was working for the Green Collection and the Green Scholars Initiative, since Baylor University has been collaborating with both at least from September 2011. In fact, an event lead by Scott Carroll consisting into the dismounting of a mummy mask for obtaining papyri took place at Baylor University and involved professors and students of the Department of Classics on September 9, 2011, as reported in the Bulletin of the Department (pp. 1-2).

Can you help me tracking down this Indiana Jones of Biblical Studies for an interview (and a picture with autograph, obviously)? Can you add details, corrections or integration to the information retrieved so far? Were you part of the public for any of these scholarly or wider audience events? I’d love to hear from you…

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Papyri, the Bible, and the formation of the Green Collection

A world-champion under threat?  P.Ryl. 457 aka P52 © The John Rylands Library

A world-champion under threat?
P.Ryl. 457 aka P52
© The John Rylands Library

If you come to Manchester, do visit the John Rylands Library and go to the permanent display room. There you’ll meet the star of our collection: P.Ryl. 457 aka P52 aka the oldest surviving fragment of the New Testament so far known.

This tiny scrap of papyrus, which B.P. Grenfell brought back, among other purchases, from his last trip to Egypt in 1920, was recognised as belonging to a codex with at least some passages from the Gospel of John only later on, by C.H. Roberts, who continued the work of the Oxford Dioscuri after their retirement and death (by the way, isn’t that a great nickname for Grenfell and Hunt?). Roberts published the fragment in 1935 and dated it on a palaeographical basis, assigning the handwriting to the first half of the second century AD.

From that moment onwards every discussion on the dating of the John Gospel’s redaction depended heavily on the Rylands papyrus’ palaeographical date. This had never been put under systematic enquiry or serious challenge until 2007, when Brent Nongbri, currently at Macquarie University, published an article in the Harvard Theological Review undermining the methodology of Roberts’ and others’ palaeographical dating, and concluding that later dates cannot be excluded on the basis of comparative evidence.

The head manuscript curator of the John Rylands Library, John Hodgson, and many of his colleagues know this story well because I often guide visiting groups and students and entertain them on the matter in front of the holy case (want to see me and the papyrus? click here, I know, I am not this great reporter…). At the Rylands we often joke about the imminent loss of our place as the oldest in the New Testament championship. I always try to console the others by saying that we have much more interesting pieces than that one, for instance my favourite one in the Christianity league: P. Ryl. 463, a fragmentary page from a codex containing at least parts of the uncanonical Gospel of Mary. This papyrus is constantly forgotten by the wider audience because reporters and journalist prefer to check out the other two surviving fragmentary copies of the Gospel in Berlin and Oxford, which I do not understand since, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Manchester is even cooler than London so imagine compared to Berlin or Oxford (and it must be true if those stylish Italians say so). Whatever. Despite my repeated efforts I know that the Rylands librarians will never totally accept my alternative perspective.

Now, while in search of information about the Green Collection in connection with their fragment from the same roll as the new London Sappho papyrus, I’ve discovered that in fact the Rylands fragment’s biggest threat doesn’t come from the learned mind of Brent Nongbri, but from Mr. Green, president of Hobby Lobby, and some of the scholars on his team.

I am a late-night-Google addict so I dug around a little bit in these days of Sappho frenzy. One of the most fascinating scholars I came across in this way, who started the Green Collection’s adventure, but whom I have been told was later sacked, is Dr. Scott Carroll, director of the Green Collection back in 2012 according to Huffington Post contributor profile.

Intrigued, I retrieved lots of information on Dr. Carroll’s activities, and discovered some very entertaining videos. For instance, you can watch him talking about his exciting labours and the Green’s mission in a video embedded into the The Christian Broadcasting Network News website article of 7 April 2012 about  the exhibition ‘Verbum Domini’ which took place  in the Vatican City from 1 March to 15 April 2012. Dr. Carroll, the article says, is: “a scholar on ancient and medieval manuscripts and is known by many as the “Indiana Jones” of biblical archaeology. He helped Green compile his still-growing collection.”

In the video Dr. Carroll explains how it was possible for the Collection to purchase so many artifacts (40,000 in 2012) in such a short time. From what I understand from listening to the  interview – although I must admit that I was distracted by the hypnotic effect of Carroll’s “Indiana Jones” personality and by the overpowering enthusiasm of the reporter and his colourfully-striped tie – he gives two main reasons:

  1. The collapse of the economy: apparently people put collections on the market when they are short of money, and this happened often in these last years.
  2. The incredible attraction of the Bible: people are increasingly interested in objects connected with the history of the Bible. There are a lot of collectors of these kinds of antiquities around the world that the Green team had been able to contact and meet, and who in fact lent pieces for the 2012 exhibition (see also on this point a Vatican document describing the exhibition online).

Dr. Carroll is also mentioned personally by Steve Green when presenting his collection to  CNN on 18 January 2012. Mr. Green shows, among other things, a fragment of papyrus bearing, according to Dr. Carroll’s discovery and study, the earliest testimony of Paul’s Romans.

I guess the papyrus is that presented the following November at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature by Grant Edwards and Nick Zola, at that time both at Baylor’s University (Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds Session, Chicago 19 November 2012), proposing a date in the early 3rd century.

I then read an enlightening interview Dr. Scott gave to the Weekly Trust (a national weekly newspaper based in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, part of the Daily Trust) published in two parts on 2 and 9 November 2013 (available here and here). Here he is presented as “an American scholar of ancient languages and texts and director of the Manuscript Research Group, who has been involved in building the two largest private collections of ancient documents in the world.” Dr. Scott gives details on manuscripts and papyri purchases, including an intriguing mention of Sappho (again, poor Sappho…). He says:

“I direct an independent research group, called the Manuscript Research Group, and it consists of the leading text, language, and manuscript specialists in the world. We work with private collections predominantly and also with museums to identify unknown ancient texts in a variety of languages. We seek to prepare those documents for publication. Because we have a deep passion as professors and teachers to see those documents have a meaningful impact on the community, students, and professors, we also incorporate them into university life, mentoring professors, mentoring students, and providing opportunity for them to participate in the publication and dissemination of information.”

There is no more direct connection with the Green Collection (although I guess that one of the two above mentioned “two largest private collections of ancient documents in the world” must be the Green), but our Indiana Jones is still active in his mission of “breathing life into mummified texts”, as the title of the article explains.

All this information, freely available on the web (God bless the internet!), has really given me an interesting, although sometimes bizarre, panorama of the contemporary collecting of antiquities inspired by religious and scholarly interest in the Bible. It reminded me of the (in)glorious imperial age of Britain, and brought me back to our own J. Rendel Harris, who, chasing Biblical papyri in 1916-1917, lost his friend J.H. Moulton in the Mediterranean on the way back from Egypt (you can read an old post on this). Mrs. Rylands (of whom I am the greatest devotee) and her husband also started collecting books, incunabula and manuscripts for their private and public libraries, inspired by their deep non-conformist Christian faith and love for the Bible. To collect Bibles and Christian manuscripts and books meant (and clearly still means, for some people) to get closer to God and his Word.

But let’s come back to the digital era. During my search, I went on both Facebook and Twitter to see if Dr. Carroll had accounts there. Indeed, he is on Twitter, and I am now following him! I scrolled down his tweets and found that he must already have been busy with the Green’s adventure in 2011, a fact which is confirmed in a post dated 21 September 2011 on the News of the Institute for Studies on Religion at  Baylor University. I list here some of the most interesting tweets for papyri, but you can read all of them on the most diverse kinds of manuscripts at @DrScottCarroll:

17 October 2011: “Landed in the UK and retrieved a private collection of papyri including unpublished biblical and classical texts.”

20 October 2011: “Retrieved a mummy mask, covered w/ gold made on the inside with discarded papyri paper-mache. Long-lost works will be extracted from it.” (There is plenty of mummy panels/masks around, it appears)

22 October 2011: “Classical papyri identified in the recently acquired collection including one of the earliest-known works of Plato and many more to follow.”

20 November 2011: “Presented and described biblical papyri to the President of Nigeria, cabinet members and advisers who showed great interest in the items.”

27 November 2011: “Finished exhibit and lectures in West Africa with over 21,000 registered. Now in Istanbul looking at a collection of unpublished papyri.”

Same day, later tweet: “My eyes feasted on classical texts, royal decrees, and Biblical and Gnostic texts; nearly 1,000 papyri hidden in this private treasure-trove.”

29 November 2011: “Met with scholars at Oxford regarding the Green Scholars Initiative and research opportunities for professors and students—It’s a go!”

And last but not least, the day before my birthday (!!!) he threats the Manchester super-star:

1 December 2011: “For over 100 years the earliest known text of the New Testament has been the so-call John Rylands Papyrus. Not any more. Stay tuned…”

This all gave me a big headache. My normal life is so far removed from all of this, the tie of the CBN reporter included, that I began to feel like a lost character in a low-budget version of the Da Vinci Code. I could not formulate any thoughts other than the following two:

  1. Dr. Scott Carroll is quite an interesting personality. Maybe his over-enthusiasm for mummified texts is the reason he no longer works with Mr. Green. I’ve not been able to find anything more recent than this webpage on him: http://christiancourses.com/professors/dr-scott-t-carroll/. Maybe someone out can fill in the gaps for me?
  2. The world is full of private collections of Biblical related artefacts that you can buy legally on the market, as long as you have a religious-agenda-inspired passion for antiquities, the millions of Mr. Steve Green, and, last but not least, scholars happy to contribute to such an  enterprise.

At this point, I have one hope: that Mr. Green, the Green Collection, and the scholars taking part in the Green Scholars Initiative and their publishers (e.g. Brill), will consider giving full public access to the documents relating to the acquisition of the manuscripts and objects, and therefore details on their provenance, for the sake of their further study. In this way, we could begin to map this wonderful but hidden world of legal private collecting. Shall we work together to bring all these private treasure troves out of the shadows?

In conclusion, I wish to reassure Mr. Green and his team of experts in early Christian manuscripts that one day Manchester will be happy to leave the New Testament Papyrus World Cup to someone else, since we have had it for so long. But please do not pass this information on to my colleagues at the Library…